SPRING HILL — While baseball fans around the country tune in to ESPN to watch the Little League World Series unfold in Williamsport, Pa., summertime has always meant something a little different on the ballfields in Hernando County.
The South has its own brand of baseball and softball, and the Dixie League has become a staple in 11 states over the past 55 years.
Locally, young athletes from Brooksville and Spring Hill have been competing on Dixie diamonds for more than 30 years. Although the teams have made a habit of going far into the tournaments in various divisions, prior to this year only three — two boys teams and a girls team — had gone all the way and captured a World Series title.
The Spring Hill Dixie Angels (ages 9 and 10) recently became the fourth local team to achieve that accomplishment.
Managed by Glenn Primavera, the Angels won 12 straight games in the postseason to take the championship trophy in Vancleave, Miss. Spring Hill bested Team Louisiana 1-0 to take the crown, the second time the Angels had defeated the Ponchatoula, La., team in the tournament.
While it was a team effort for the 12 girls on the club, the leadership on this season's team seemed to be the difference maker from the 2009 Angels team, which won the state title and then went 2-2 at the World Series before getting ousted.
Abbey Primavera, the star pitcher for the team the past two seasons, was another year older and wiser on the mound. She also found a way to contribute with the bat. In the championship game, she tossed a complete-game shutout, allowing only two hits and four walks. Her nine strikeouts controlled the Louisiana lineup.
Over the course of the tournament, she pitched 11 innings, allowing only eight hits and 21 strikeouts. She also knocked in the only run of the championship game, singling in Chayse Skinner in the first inning.
"All season long, Chayse set the table, and that led to Abbey, Heather (Shagoury) and Bre (Blankenship), our 3-4-5 hitters, knocking them in," Glenn Primavera said. "We had a lot of confidence in all of them."
Shagoury was another leader for Spring Hill. The pitcher and outfielder was the No. 2 hurler, and she was called in on more than one occasion to stop the bleeding. She started the opener against Fairfax, Va., going two innings in a game that was eventually won 10-0. She also got out of a bases-loaded jam in the final inning against Louisiana in the second game of the tournament, a 6-1 win.
Blankenship caught Primavera and Shagoury for a majority of the postseason, and the catcher was valuable to the championship run. She also did damage with the bat in her hands. Blankenship knocked in two runs with a double in the first win over Louisiana.
While this team may not be starring on ESPN, the manager is quick to point out that he believes his girls can hang with any team.
"Little League is the biggest in the country, but in different parts of the South, Dixie is much bigger," Glenn Primavera said. "Florida might not be the biggest Dixie state, but I think that makes our run all the more meaningful. It's almost as if you're talking about a small-market baseball team like the Pittsburgh Pirates beating the Yankees."
With the crown, this group not only became one of the few from Hernando to win a World Series title. It became the first Florida team to win the Charles R. "Zack" Black Championship Award, given to the champions in the Angels age division.
"That really never enters your mind beforehand, but if you look back in the record books, Florida hadn't won a softball title in quite a while in any division," Glenn Primavera said. "The girls will be able to share this with their friends and family for years to come."